“What’s that?” Rising out of the rubble, Xuan Zan’s pupils contracted violently. He pointed at a meteoric light that shot into the indistinct distance. It was so fast that it was impossible to see clearly with the naked eye.
Kuang Han and Xue Yi both looked in that direction. The light left behind an afterimage, but it had already become a point in the vast horizon.
“Bah, have we let him escape?” Kuang Han gritted his teeth, his expression full of incredulity. “What are you hesitating for? After him!”
Xue Yi emitted a sound of surprise, thenyelled. “All the restrictions around here are gone? I thought that the Blackwraith Mountains has a powerful one that prevents flight? How did that kid…?”
“The restrictions are broken. After him!” Kuang Han waved a hand.
The three mid empyrean experts all rose into the sky. They chased after the light with incredible rapidity, working themselves up into a frenzy. Clearly, they couldn’t accept what had transpired under their noses. This was the height of disgrace!
In the precise moment Jiang Chen had finished refining the Obelisk of Containment, Winterdraw’s foundations shuddered. Countless formations and restrictions lost effect. As they crumbled, their energy roiled everywhere, causing a myriad of natural and supernatural phenomena to manifest.
The sky that had been near dusk was abruptly brighter than it would’ve been at midday. Innumerable beacons of light streaked across it, like thousands of lightning bolts snaking to and fro in the clouds.
The air currents whipped up by the disturbance rippled outwards, kicking up ever more powerful turbulence. The water on Winterdraw’s coast formed into rising tides rivaling a tsunami’s.
Oddities shook the island.
Countless people swarmed from their homes into the streets. The destructive visions all about them were absolutely shocking.
“What’s going on?”
The streets were shaking. They seemed to be standing on a wavy surface rather than solid ground. Surprise and bafflement was written on faces everywhere. However, most didn’t seem afraid. Evidently, Winterdraw’s inhabitants were uniformly a strong-minded bunch. They didn’t even fear death, much less a few strange sights.
Very quickly, shouts rang through the avenues. “The restrictions on the borders are loosening!”
“What do you mean, the restrictions are loosening?”
“Yeah, that’s got to be it. Winterdraw’s foundations are breaking! Haha, this is our chance to escape!”
“Haha, freedom is now! If you don’t want to be trapped here for the rest of your life, hurry up and run!”
So it was everywhere on the island. People driven into a frenzy swarmed into the open. The quickest to react didn’t even pack any bags; they made for the border at the earliest opportunity. Everyone wanted in on this golden opportunity.
On the outskirts of the Blackwraith Mountains, Imperial Prince Huo and Commander He instantly noticed that something was awry. All the changes originated from the mountains nearby.
The chief warden’s expression looked the worst of all. His gaze was glued to the pillar of light from deep within the Blackwraith Mountains, the shaking of the earth. and the unnatural color of the sky.
“Has something happened? Has something truly happened?” he murmured to himself.
He didn’t know the island’s secret either. He and his predecessors had merely been in charge of making sure this place was an adequate prison for exiled undesirables. In light of that, he was only an official with incomplete knowledge.
What he was seeing reminded him of a few rumors he’d heard. He sank into stupefied silence.
“What does all this mean, Old Ding?” Imperial Prince Huo was utterly lost.
The chief warden sighed. “Your Highness, the Blackwraith Mountains’ forbidden grounds are rarely entered even by my own men. Whenever we enter, we refrain from blindly rushing in. Rumor has it that Winterdraw’s fundamental roots lie within, and it seems that current events verify that rumor.”
“You mean… someone has shaken Winterdraw’s foundations?” Imperial Prince Huo colored.
“I think so.” The chief warden sounded conflicted. “I wonder if it was the two contestants or the three houses…”
“What happens if the foundations are shaken?” asked Commander He.
A chain reaction was set off by the changes in the mountains’ core in the midst of their conversation. The restrictions on the island’s boundaries began to crumble and self-destruct.
The chief warden was completely purple. “This isn’t good. If the foundations are loosened, the entire island’s defense system will be neutralized. This is the worst situation possible!”
The prince and the commander grew somber when they heard the declaration. “Exactly how serious is it?”
“Very. If the island’s cultivators find out that the border defense system is broken, it’ll cause a mass stampede. The whole of Winterdraw will be defenseless then, and its natural order will be no more…” the chief warden was not exaggerating at all.
“Commander He!” The imperial prince instructed hurriedly. “Please, take the bulk of the men and lock down all the important docks. At the same time, send a messenger to ask the imperial family for assistance. Old Ding, do you have confidence in the ability of your troops to defend all the choke points?”
“There’s no use to doing that, Your Highness,” the chief warden smiled wryly. “If the defenses are down, the crazed prisoners might not even go to the choke points in the first place. They will be able to leave from anywhere.”
“There aren’t any boats elsewhere, or airboats for that matter. They wouldn’t be able to get very far!” Imperial Prince Huo was still hanging on to false hope.
“Not necessarily. They’ll try to swim. They have no hope in staying on Winterdraw regardless. Why would they not give everything up for potential freedom? Though it may result in their deaths, they will take the desperate gamble for the very small chance at life!” Warden Ding knew the people he spent time with far better than the imperial prince.
“What should we do, then?” Imperial Prince Huo looked blank. “Winterdraw is huge and bordered by ocean on all sides. We can’t hope to encircle the entire thing – nay, not even a hundredth of it.”
“We can only hope that no one notices. When the first man does and incites everyone else to action, the island will plunge into chaos!”
“Your Highness, I think that Winterdraw’s affairs should be solved by the locals. The three major factions and second-rate ones under them have sway over most of the people here. If we have them keep the order, perhaps…”
Imperial Prince Huo glanced toward Xie Wushang and his peers. “Old Ding, call them over.”
The faction leaders were ushered over straightaway.
The imperial prince spoke gravely, his expression grim. “Friends, Winterdraw has seen a disastrous change. Now is when your loyalty is put to the test. You are all local bosses and most of the inhabitants here are under your control. I would like you to return to your territories and maintain stability. Are you confident in this mission?”
Xie Wushang and his fellows traded thoughtful looks. They had noticed the momentous occurrence as much as anyone else. This was the best of opportunities for them to escape! The very thought of it shook them to the core.
The imperial prince’s expression darkened at their hesitation. “What, do you have second thoughts as well?”
“You are the faction leaders of Winterdraw,” the chief warden declared sternly. “It’s not to your benefit that it should devolve into anarchy. Your rule can only be upheld through law and order. What say you to that?”
The faction leaders remained silent.
They had some position and authority here on Winterdraw, but the chief warden was liable to take it away at any moment. All of it was largely an illusion. Thus, they thirsted for freedom much more.
They would rather give up all they had in order to leave the island. After all, they had no future, hope, or freedom on Winterdraw. They could only stay on the island their entire life under the hand of one or another. If they lost control over their own subordinates, an upstart would inevitably rise up and slay them. Such was their fate.
Indeed, their own rises had been mixed with replacing the last generation of rulers. The replacement had naturally been of the violent sort. They didn’t want to go on like this.
“Your Highness, we can maintain order, but we do need a promise from you.”
“What promise?” Imperial Prince Huo inquired coolly.
“We need our freedom. Please grant us freedom after everything is said and done here, and let us leave Winterdraw Island. Even if we are to roam the world as a wandering cultivator, we would be more than willing.” Xie Wushang made a daring request.
The lord of Nether Vale nodded in agreement. “Yes, this is my only request as well. As long as we are given freedom, we will do everything in our power to make things settle down.”
“What about you?” Imperial Prince Huo swept his gaze toward the others.
“We want our freedom too. Please give it to us, Your Highness!”
“Yes, everything else is pointless without freedom.”
Liberty was universally desired among the prince’s audience.
The imperial prince didn’t reply. Instead, he looked to the chief warden for his opinion. “Do you think that’s feasible, Old Ding?”
The chief warden sank into thought for a moment. “If things become peaceful again, their departure will only be met with the ascension of new leadership. After we cultivate the next generation a while, everything should go back to normal. But the final choice is yours, Your Highness. I don’t dare make it for you.”
Imperial Prince Huo considered this for a moment, then nodded himself. “Alright, I will accept your condition. If you can restrain the rioting people and calm the worsening crowd, I swear on heaven and earth that I will restore your freedom to you afterward. You will leave Winterdraw Island honorably!”
Everyone was overjoyed upon hearing this.
“His Highness has spoken,” the chief warden stated coldly. “So you should be satisfied, no? If so, go perform your side of the bargain. Time is of the essence. If there’s further delay, it will be much tougher to quell the rebellion!”
“Let us return immediately. Please await our good news, Your Highness!” Xie Wushang and company were extremely enthusiastic. They hurriedly set off on their journeys back.